Sell public on math, science

Posted on February 24, 2006

National leaders are talking a great deal about the need to increase math and science education, but they may not be talking to the right people. President Bush acknowledged in his State of the Union address that the nation lags behind in math and science. He praised Sen. Lamar Alexander for pushing legislation that would create 100,000 math and science teachers over the next five years. University leaders and state officials agree that other nations, including India and China, are reaping economic rewards for putting more emphasis on math and science education. Perhaps those leaders of government and education need to quit talking to one another and start talking more to the American public, particularly parents and students. A recent public opinion poll by Public Agenda indicates that most parents and students are content with math and science education just the way it is. The poll indicates that parents' concern about math and science education actually has declined over the last decade. Fifty-seven percent of parents indicated that the math and science offered at their child's school is fine. Public Agenda tracks opinion on education issues. Alexander and the other leaders make a very credible — even scary — case that the United States will lose its competitive edge without more emphasis on math and science. Yet in order to create a synergy on the issue, the nation must do more than train more math and science teachers and mandate more math and science classes for teenagers. It has to explain to the public why math and science are important for the future of the nation. And it has to explain to young people and their parents the logical career choices that would follow math and science majors. In other words, the effort to push math and science education needs to describe the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If leaders can also give the atomic number and periodic symbol of gold, so much the better.